Much like a lake, a central business district has an ebb and flow to it.
“Following on the heels of the addition of 10 new businesses in 2016, much of 2017 was a year of stability, as downtown Dowagiac marched closer to a zero vacancy rate,” said Vickie Phillipson, Chamber of Commerce and DDA program director.
“Last year we welcomed six new business owners, saw the expansion of one business into an adjoining storefront and the purchase of four downtown properties. The third and final quarter of the year, however, brought the closure of Huntington Bank and the announcement of three additional business closures, and the upcoming consolidation of two stores.”
“2018 will, indeed, be a year of challenge and transition,” Phillipson said. The good news - she is presently working with six business prospects, each of whom are anxious to look at properties, as soon as they can be shown.
As we look back on 2017, in February Nicole Tienda and Larry Stack of Decatur, current owners of Railway Café, purchased the Markham building with the intention of opening a Mexican restaurant. Work is continuing on the interior.
In spring, we announced the lease of a Donker Shopping Plaza storefront to Steve Wright, owner of Wright Farms of Cassopolis. Wright, who is a two-year participant of the Farm & Artisan Market, along with building owner Vic Cuthbert, have been making interior and exterior renovations to the property.
Wright intends to feature local, farm-raised beef, pork, chicken and fresh shrimp, and such specialty items as goat and cow cheeses, flavored butters, fresh oils, jams and jellies, and fresh and frozen pies. His state inspection at Donker Shopping Plaza was completed January 12. He hopes to open that location by the end of February.
In July/August, Martin Schmaltz purchased Wood Fire Italian Trattoria, Sunny Singh purchased Steinman’s and Tom Hartman opened Hartman Service Center.
In early-summer, with the pending closure of the vacuum cleaner shop, Phillipson began showing Paul Pugh’s building to business prospects. Subsequently, Jeff and Melissa Gunn purchased the property and in July entered into a verbal lease agreement with Michelle Stambaugh of Sister Lakes.
In September, Stambaugh returned to the downtown with her pottery studio, Mud-Luscious, which also features vintage and artisan painted furniture, boutique women’s apparel and the upper-level art studio of Kandy Grady of Dowagiac.
The excitement of specialty retail wasn’t lost on Melissa Gunn, who shortly afterwards began looking into launching her own shop. In September, this self-described Christmas “-holic” announced plans to open Deck the Halls within the Commercial Street storefront she and her husband, Jeff, own. In mid-November the Christmas store opened. Following its first holiday season, the store reopened for Ice Time.
In October, Tammy and Ken Tinch of Dowagiac purchased the former dry cleaner’s building. Work on the interior of the property has commenced, with exterior renovation scheduled for spring. Phillipson anticipates an announcement in March or April of the retail lines they will carry.
During 2017, we saw the consolidation of Jacobs Martial Arts Academy into the Commercial Street location of PDK Firearms Training, followed by the closure of both; the expansion of Fair's Gun 'n Gear into the adjacent Penn Avenue storefront and the purchase of the "former theatre" building by Shannon Lyons. Going forward it will be known as the Lyons/McBride building.